Malaysia: Dealing with the death of a loved one whilst cruising

Whilst this is a topic that no one particularly likes to talk about, it is something that all cruisers should consider, particularly when cruising a long way from home in a foreign country and remote cruising ground, where no English is spoken. Lorraine Harding has shared details of her experience when her husband Stephen sadly passed away on board and the overwhelming support she received from the local yachting community.

Published 11 years ago, updated 5 years ago

I would like to tell my fellow yachties about my husband’s death while out at sea.

We had joined the Back to the East Rally (Borneo Rally) our starting destination being Danga Bay, Malaysia. To be quite frank, we were dreading going back to Danga Bay because we had started the Malaysian Rally from there in 2011, and had nothing but a bad experience under the previous management. In fact, it was so bad at that time that 5 yachts from the rally refused to stay because of the disrepair of the

marina and the offensive attitude of the previous manager.

When we finally got to Danga Bay, we were pleasantly surprised at how much the place had changed under the new manager Terrence, in such a short period of time…and to be quite frank we were really amazed, it

was now a great place to be, not at all what we had expected.

We went through the usual rally briefings and dinner and had the most wonderful time together. My husband Steve (61 years of age) was just so excited to be doing this Borneo rally and we met our fellow

participants, who we had planned to meet at the Tioman Islands.

We left Danga Bay and crossed the Singapore straight (which anyone who has done it, knows the crossing is a feat in itself). We were anchored in a small bay near a naval base, which we found out was restricted waters, so we anchored well away. As we were anchoring, the chart plotter blew a fuse and Steve told me that he would fix it in the morning and we would continue on our way. Steve said to me the night he died “our new adventure begins tomorrow,” a big smile on his face.

At approximately 2 am, 8th of May 2013, I woke to my husband groaning in his sleep and I thought that maybe he was having a bad dream. I tried to rouse him and soon realized that there was something wrong.

As I was shaking him and trying to wake Steve up, the light just faded from his eyes…in my heart, I knew that my wonderful Steve was gone.

Being a nurse, I felt his pulse…nothing, so I commenced CPR but he was dead and there was nothing I could do to revive him. Steve did not complain of feeling unwell and in fact, people had commented on how well he looked, so you can imagine how unexpected and devastating this was for me.

I immediately got onto the radio and called for anyone who could give me medical assistance, which took about 1/2 hour before anyone began to take me seriously. Once it was acknowledged that I really was in distress, I was asked for my coordinates, which I could not give as the chart plotter fuse had blown.

I have never felt so alone in my life, trapped and not knowing where I was, the only thing I could think of doing, was to set off the EPIRB…so at least I could be located.

About 1 1/2 hours later a Malaysian sea patrol arrived and something had got lost in the translation and they thought that we had engine problems and had to explain that no, in fact, my husband had died. The Malaysian Police were amazingly helpful and did all they could to assist me. They contacted the naval base and we were able to get our boat, Patamba, into the restricted area.

Much from there on is a blur to me and I was then taken to the police station to make a statement. At the police station, no one could speak English and I really needed help…I was alone in a foreign country, my husband died and had no phone. All my cruising friends had moved on…I did not know what to do and I

was all alone.

I still had one close friend at Danga Bay but did not have the number for the marina to contact him and with the help of the police, we were finally able to contact the Danga Bay office, so that I could at least let my friend (John – Sea Hog) know what had taken place.

The Malaysian Police were just wonderful and did all they could to help me. They brought in an interpreter, I made a statement and then after a 2-hour journey, I was taken to the hospital by the Malaysian Police, to identify Steve’s body. About 1 hour later my friend John arrived with the new Danga Bay marina manager Terrence. I was quite stunned to see Terrence, as we had only met him a few times before, during our short stay at Danga Bay…but between John and Terrance, they were my rocks throughout all this.

John, got our boat back from the naval base to Danga Bay Marina, while Terrence (who in no way had to lend any assistance) sorted out the funeral arrangements, death certificate and so much more.

As you can imagine, I was in shock and devastated and when I got back to Danga Bay, I knew hardly anyone, but was shown so much love from this small community of special people called “yachties”. The caring and compassion I was shown, was nothing short of amazingly heartwarming.

We had a wonderful funeral, full of love and joy, my only regret is that all our yachtie friends, who are now scattered far and wide, could not be there.

I felt compelled to inform Noonsite of what has taken place. The night Steve died was the worse night of my life. I was trapped in a foreign country, my best friend dead, not knowing where I was, what I was going to do and not really knowing anyone.

I hope that no one ever has to go through what I did, but the point that I am trying to make is, enjoy every day that you are out on that vast ocean, because we do not know what tomorrow holds. I was shown so much love and compassion from the yachting community at Danga Bay (most of whom I did not even know before this happened) and from my friend John and Terrence, who made this awful experience bearable.

I am back in Australia at the moment and do not know what the future holds for me but Terrence has made sure that my boat is safe and secure at Danga Bay Marina so that I can grieve my enormous loss. I have now brought my husband Stephen Nisbet’s ashes back in Australia to scatter…his birthplace and his home.

Thank you to everyone who has shown the love and compassion I really needed, in this time of personal devastation.

Lorraine Nisbet (Harding)

SV Patamba.

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